Trades to Get Every Eliminated Playoff Team to 2021 NBA Finals
Losing an NBA playoff series is never fun, and wound licking only provides so much relief.
But never fear, fans of the 14 teams dispatched from the 2020 postseason, we have discovered your club's path to the 2021 Finals. It will take a trade to get there, and in some cases, it must be a pretty gargantuan change.
Since we're free to focus on a one-year window, we're also more willing to put top assets into trades than teams might actually be, but even then, we aren't just giving top picks and prospects away. It's just that if the potential prize is a championship, there are certain sacrifices clubs should be willing to make.
Boston Celtics receive: Myles Turner, Jeremy Lamb, Doug McDermott
Indiana Pacers receive: Gordon Hayward, No. 14 pick (via MEM), No. 26 pick
The Al Horford-less Celtics had a functional collection of 5s until they didn't. Once Bam Adebayo stood in their path in the Eastern Conference Finals, their lack of serviceable size became a fatal flaw.
Turner could help correct it. He's not only a major defensive deterrent at the rim (career 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes), and he moves well enough to handle most perimeter switches. He also doesn't gunk up the offensive spacing, since he's a career 35.7 percent shooter from distance.
He's not a star, but the Shamrocks are covered in that department by Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the latter two of whom are still working toward their peaks. Boston just needs more role players Brad Stevens can trust, and the club would get three back in this exchange. A sniper like McDermott is always useful, and Lamb could scratch an itch for second-team scoring whenever he's recovered from a torn ACL.
The Pacers do this deal for two reasons. First, they're ready to finally move away from the double-big lineup and hand the frontcourt keys to Domantas Sabonis. Second, they want to build a big winner ahead of Victor Oladipo's journey to free agency and see Hayward, a former All-Star who hails from the Circle City, as their vehicle to get there. If Hayward is fully healthy, Indy gets the best player in the deal, plus two first-round picks.
Brooklyn Nets receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards receive: Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Garrett Temple, No. 19 pick (via PHI), 2021 second-round pick (via ATL), 2022 first-round pick (top-five protected)
Nets Nation, meet your optimum offseason.
He has the three-ball to prevent teams from overcrowding Durant and Kyrie Irving and the potency to power the attack on his own whenever needed. Since Beal won't have to do everything on offense, he could have the energy to reverse his recent decline on defense, too. Basically, he's the best-case scenario of LeVert and more, and Beal is only a year older.
The Wizards decide they've played hard ball long enough and pounce on a package with both present and future assets. Competing for a playoff berth is not out of the question with LeVert, Allen and Temple—whose $5 million team option must be picked up for this to work—alongside John Wall next season. Then, the two firsts and possibly early second all brighten the club's long-term outlook, which should be the organization's biggest focus.
Dallas Mavericks receive: Rudy Gobert
Utah Jazz receive: Tim Hardaway Jr., Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson, No. 18 pick, No. 31 pick (via GSW)
The Mavs might have a championship-quality duo in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, but they need a third star to push them into full-fledged title contention. The problem is they don't have the richest asset collection to use in their star search. They can only trade the No. 18 pick on draft night, and after that they can't move another first-rounder until 2025.
They need a discounted star in other words, and maybe Gobert's future uncertainty has lowered Utah's trade demands. The 7-footer is approaching his final season under contract, and the Jazz might not want to break the bank (he is supermax eligible) to keep him. He's already 28 years old, and his offensive limitations aren't going away.
But the Mavs and their most efficient offense in NBA history can work around Gobert's limits. They have enough shooting to keep the runway clear for Gobert to crush lobs on the back end of pick-and-rolls with Doncic. Gobert, in turn, could get their 18th-ranked defense where it needs to be for them to contend.
Kleber increases Utah's versatility as a stretch 5 who can defend away from the basket. Hardaway either shares the spark-plug role with Jordan Clarkson or takes control of it if Clarkson departs in free agency. Brunson addresses a quietly pressing need for a backup point guard. The picks can either bring new prospects to town or be used in separate transactions for more immediate assistance.
Denver Nuggets receive: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Michael Porter Jr., Monte Morris, No. 22 pick (via HOU)
Rocking the boat on the heels of a Western Conference Finals appearance might seem excessive, but the Nuggets seem one piece shy of a true championship threat. Rather than waiting for Porter to become that player, they could flip the young scorer for Gilgeous-Alexander, who might be the ideal backcourt mate for Jamal Murray.
Gilgeous-Alexander blends primary-option scoring with versatile, disruptive defense, high-level distributing and off-the-dribble attacking. He can play within a system and complement the likes of Murray and Nikola Jokic or divert from it to relieve some of the pressure on the Nuggets' stars.
Adding Gilgeous-Alexander potentially sets up Denver's Big Three and positions it for sustained success. He's just 22 years old, so the idea of joining him with the 25-year-old Jokic and 23-year-old Murray should terrify the Nuggets' aging competition in the West.
The Thunder take the calculated risk of betting that Porter's ceiling stretches even higher than Gilgeous-Alexander's. It's a gamble given how accomplished SGA already is, but it would hardly be an outlandish wager. If Porter hits his full potential, he could be basketball's next matchup nightmare as an athletic, 6'10" three-level scorer.
The upside is too great for the Thunder to overlook, and they also bring back a rock-solid 25-year-old floor general in Morris and yet another first-round pick.
Houston Rockets receive: Aaron Gordon, Al-Farouq Aminu
Orlando Magic receive: Eric Gordon, Danuel House Jr., Ben McLemore, 2022 first-round pick (top-five protected), 2024 second-round pick, 2024 second-round pick (via GSW)
The Rockets are light on needle-movers beyond James Harden, so they need help to make an impact deal, Here, they receive it in the form of the Magic being desperate for offense and potentially ready to accept that it just isn't working with Aaron Gordon.
If this deal is on the table—and if Tilman Fertitta wouldn't recoil at the idea of elevating next season's payroll—the Rockets should pounce in a hurry. Even if Gordon and Aminu aren't the most reliable shooters, they can hit enough threes to not destroy the offensive spacing, and they could fit right into a switch-heavy defensive scheme.
Barring a major systematic change for the post-Mike D'Antoni Rockets, Gordon and Aminu should get all of their minutes as small-ball 4s and 5s. Gordon, in particular, could be a position change away from finally putting all the pieces together and proving why he was the fourth player taken in 2014. He should be a dynamic pick-and-roll screener with his explosive finishing at the basket and ability to find (and feed) open teammates.
The Magic, meanwhile, decide they'd rather not pay Gordon or Aminu when Jonathan Isaac, Nikola Vucevic, Mo Bamba and Chuma Okeke can handle all the 4 and 5 minutes. Instead, Orlando gets busy trying to fix its 23rd-ranked offense. If Eric Gordon can ever stay healthy, he can be a dynamic scorer, shooter and off-the-dribble creator. House and McLemore buy this offense some breathing room by scratching an itch for more spot-up sniping.
Indiana Pacers receive: Jrue Holiday
New Orleans Pelicans receive: Myles Turner, Aaron Holiday, Doug McDermott, 2022 first-round pick
The Pacers already started the shake-up process with the dismissal of coach Nate McMillan, and that could be the first of several dominoes to drop.
Their interest in Mike D'Antoni, as reported by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, signals a willingness to retool the roster. The small-ball enthusiast has little use for a frontcourt featuring Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and Goga Bitadze, so splitting with at least one of the three seems inevitable.
This deal not only helps balance Indiana's roster, but it also brings back a two-way difference-maker in Jrue Holiday. He's a two-time All-Defensive selection who is serviceable or better at everything on offense. That makes him an easy fit with any kind of supporting cast, and in the Circle City, he could form a do-it-all perimeter trio with Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon, giving Sabonis a bounty of impact receivers.
The Pelicans swap out the 30-year-old Holiday for players who better fit the time lines of Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. Turner, 24, is a near ideal frontcourt partner for Williamson with his floor-spacing and rim protection. Aaron Holiday, 24 on Sept. 30, gives the offense another off-the-dribble scoring threat. McDermott, 28, keeps defenses honest as a career 41.2 percent three-point shooter.
Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Clippers receive: Derrick Rose
Detroit Pistons receive: Landry Shamet, Mfiondu Kabengele, 2022 second-round pick
This isn't time for the Clippers to panic. Despite all the (deserved) heat they've taken for blowing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round, this is still one of the league's heavyweight title contenders. L.A. finished the season fourth in winning percentage and second in net efficiency rating.
But this isn't the time to practice patience, either. Both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can enter free agency next offseason, and even if they stick around, it's not like their primes will last indefinitely. Leonard's 30th birthday is coming next June, and George is already on the wrong side of his.
L.A. needs to aggressively attack its deficiencies, and adding an actual floor general like Rose could be the key to unlock this offense's full potential. Bring his 18.1 points and 5.6 assists to town, and defenses can no longer overload on Leonard and George. Rose may not be a top-shelf focal point anymore, but he'd be incredibly hard to handle as the Clippers' third option.
The Pistons' decision to keep Rose at the deadline may have torpedoed their chances of bringing back a first-round pick, but this isn't a bad haul. Shamet is a 23-year-old sharpshooter with some off-the-dribble wiggle, and 23-year-old Kabengele offers an intriguing blend of length, athleticism, shot-blocking and some outside shooting. And on the off chance Leonard and George leave next summer, that 2022 second-rounder could be an early one.
Milwaukee Bucks receive: Chris Paul
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Eric Bledsoe, Ersan Ilyasova, Donte DiVincenzo, Robin Lopez, D.J. Wilson, 2024 first-round pick (top-five protected)
This seems like the most obvious move of the season, at least from Milwaukee's standpoint. The offense has stalled out in back-to-back postseasons, and the Bucks have extinguished their margin for error. Barring a supermax commitment from Giannis Antetokounmpo this offseason, the two-time reigning MVP will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021.
The time for Milwaukee to make an all-in move is now, even if The Athletic's Sam Amick and Eric Nehm are hearing a CP3 pursuit is "highly unlikely." Hopefully that's posturing, because if you sketched out the Bucks' needs list, you'd end up drawing a picture of Paul—or at least Alfonso Ribeiro.
"Rival executives expect the Bucks to prioritize acquiring a playmaker and more shooting in the offseason to retool the roster around Antetokounmpo," The Athletic's Shams Charania wrote.
Paul has the second-highest career assist percentage in NBA history (45.6) and a 37.0 career three-point percentage. If the Bucks are after table-setting and splashing, it's check and check with this deal.
The Thunder accept the inevitability of their rebuild and do well to get out of Paul's remaining contract ($41.4 million next season, $44.2 million player option for 2021-22) without taking any bad money back. In fact, they get two assets in DiVincenzo and the pick (which would convey two years after Milwaukee sends a protected first to Cleveland), add a 24-year-old wild card in Wilson and potentially prepare for future trades if contenders take a liking to the incoming veterans.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Victor Oladipo
Indiana Pacers receive: Dennis Schroder, Darius Bazley, Terrance Ferguson, No. 25 pick (via DEN)
Between last summer's trades of Paul George and Russell Westbrook and this offseason's parting of ways with former coach Billy Donovan, all signs are pointing to the Thunder needing and embracing a full-scale rebuild. But since our focus has narrowed to chasing next season's crown, OKC instead cashes in a few assets to reunite with Oladipo and foster his return to stardom.
His first stint in the Sooner State was wholly unremarkable, as he never found his niche with Westbrook and was traded for George after just one season. But Oladipo found his All-Star form in Indiana, and he'd find better fitting backcourt mates in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul in a move back to Oklahoma.
Oladipo, Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander all do a little (or, in some cases, a lot) of everything at both ends of the floor, so the on-court bond should be easily formed. They can run offense, spot up, create shots, attack the basket and defend multiple positions. It's a souped-up, bigger version of the Schroder-Paul-Gilgeous-Alexander trio, which blitzed opponents by 28.6 points per 100 possessions this season.
The Pacers, meanwhile, decide they'd rather not cover the costs of Oladipo's next contract, so they flip him for pieces who can help now and later. Schroder is the best incoming player for next season, but Bazley is the real needle-mover beyond. The 20-year-old is raw, but there are flashes of do-it-all brilliance from the athletic forward.
Orlando Magic receive: Bradley Beal
Washington Wizards receive: Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac, No. 15 pick
Orlando needs an offensive focal point, and Beal is on a short list of the league's very best.
The 27-year-old scoring guard has almost perpetually increased his production ever since arriving in the District as the No. 3 pick in 2012. Most recently, he became just the 12th player ever to average 30 points and six assists. The rest of the list is populated by current and future Hall of Famers.
Beal and Nikola Vucevic could work two-man magic together, and Beal's long-range shooting would help open the floor for Markelle Fultz's drives and Aaron Gordon's rim runs. If the Magic maintain their 11th-ranked defense while Beal launches the offense into the top 10, they could finally have their two-way formula for a title.
The Wizards won't move Beal for anything but an elite prospect, and Isaac fits the bill. The 6'11", 230-pounder is practically a top-five defense by himself, as his length and athleticism lets him blanket scorers of all sizes and styles. Once Fournier picks up his $17.2 million player option, he matches money in this deal and helps replace some of Beal's shooting and scoring.
Philadelphia 76ers receive: Chris Paul
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Al Horford, Matisse Thybulle, Zhaire Smith, 2022 first-round pick (top-10 protected)
Perhaps it will prove impossible to correct Philly's roster imbalance without sacrificing either Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons, but the Sixers aren't competing for next year's title without them. They also aren't contending without addressing series deficiencies in shooting and shot-creating.
Enter CP3. The Point God would scratch several of this squad's biggest itches and answer some of its half-court questions that have plagued recent playoff runs.
"He would get the ball to Joel Embiid in his preferred spots," The Athletic's Rich Hofmann wrote. "He can spot up off the ball and make threes, which is key around Embiid and Simmons. And perhaps most importantly, he could take the Jimmy Butler role at the end of games."
There aren't many teams who would give up multiple assets to get Paul, since he's a 35-year-old with $85.6 million headed his way over the next two seasons. But if he's the missing piece of the Sixers' championship puzzle, the trade and the contract all become small prices to pay.
The Thunder pounce on the chance to snag another long-limbed, athletic defender in Thybulle, who offers more shooting upside than their typical stopper. They also bet on their developmental staff to bring the best out of the 21-year-old Smith, and they throw another future first onto the pile. Finally, they add Horford in the hopes of getting him back on track and flipping him to a win-now shopper at some point.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers receive: Ben Simmons
Philadelphia 76ers receive: CJ McCollum, Gary Trent Jr., No. 16 pick
The championship-or-bust scale isn't often affixed to the Trail Blazers (not by anyone outside the organization, at least), but that should be how they evaluate themselves. With Damian Lillard's 30th birthday behind him, they only have so many cracks at the crown left before their superstar ages out of his prime.
That increased urgency could be what finally convinces Portland to split up the defensively problematic combo of Lillard and McCollum, especially if it means bringing back a dynamic talent like Simmons. Even if it takes coach Terry Stotts a bit to find the right distribution of touches, Simmons could shine as a Swiss Army knife defender, transition attacker and pick-and-roll partner for Lillard.
Portland wouldn't be the favorite entering next season, but it would certainly rank among the heavyweight class of contenders. It would have two stars on the top and potentially a wealth of depth behind them, assuming health for Zach Collins and Rodney Hood, possible re-signings of Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside, and the chance for Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little to either crack the rotation or be traded for players who will.
Philly admits that its roster is broken beyond repair, so it stomachs the gut punch of trading away Simmons on the hope that McCollum's creation and Trent's shooting can position Joel Embiid to thrive. The 16th pick is either a way to lengthen the rotation or an asset to help chase win-now talent.
Toronto Raptors receive: LaMarcus Aldridge
San Antonio Spurs receive: Norman Powell, Terence Davis, No. 29 pick
The Raptors won't add money to their future ledger this offseason so they can make their ambitious run at Giannis Antetokounmpo next summer.
Luckily, Aldridge is approaching the final year of his contract. Not to mention, this exchange actually increases Toronto's buying power, since Davis and the pick help incentivize the Spurs to take on the remainder of Powell's contract ($10.9 million next season with an $11.6 million player option for 2021-22).
With finances effectively removed from the equation, Toronto doesn't have to worry about Aldridge's declining production or fight with Father Time. The Raptors just need him to stay above water next season, when he'd team with Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and perhaps a re-signed Fred VanVleet to keep this club among the league's elite at both ends.
The Spurs shift their focus forward but stop short of demolishing their win-now competitiveness. Powell plugs in as a three-and-D swingman for as long as the Alamo City wants him around, and Davis offers two-way versatility that will make him an easy fit with this young nucleus.
Utah Jazz receive: Chris Paul
Oklahoma City Thunder receive: Mike Conley, 2021 second-round pick (via GSW), 2023 first-round pick (top-10 protected)
Despite Donovan Mitchell's ongoing ascension, the Jazz are trending the wrong direction. A Western Conference semifinalist in 2017 and 2018, Utah has now been knocked out of the opening round each of the past two years.
Granted, the Jazz had to blow a 3-1 lead to do it this year and did so while playing without Bojan Bogdanovic, but they can't just count on their returning roster to lengthen their postseason stay. They were only ninth in net efficiency during the regular season, a significant drop from fourth the year prior. This was also Conley's first season in Salt Lake City, and while he played his best ball in the bubble, he rarely looked like the difference-maker they still need.
Paul could be that player.
He'd be a dream pick-and-roll partner for Rudy Gobert, who's already a 72nd percentile pick-and-roll screener without him. Paul's ability to run offense (career 9.5 assists against 2.4 turnovers) and make long-range looks (37.0 percent) would both make life easier on Mitchell and the supporting cast. Paul could even play a part in re-establishing the Jazz as a defensive powerhouse after they finished just 13th in efficiency on that end.
The Thunder go from owing $85.6 million to the 35-year-old Paul to being on the hook for just $34.5 million to the 32-year-old Conley. More importantly, they put two more picks onto the road map that will eventually guide them through this rebuild, although the first-rounder could take some time to get there, as the Jazz owe the Grizzlies a protected pick either in 2021 or beyond.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @ZachBuckleyNBA.